Hot streams of sweat rolled down Jacob’s face, stinging his eyes. With every step he took, he thought his heart would burst. His muscles ached. His lungs burned. He knew he couldn’t last much longer.
“Fuck them!” he thought, as he felt a searing pain in the back of his head.
Then everything went black.
“Mom, I’m sleeping,” Jacob moaned.
“Shut the fuck up you little prick.”
“Mom,” Jacob moaned again.
“The little shit thinks I’m his mother,” the big man said, laughing.
“Come on Mom, leave me alone,” Jacob pleaded again.
“I said Shut The Fuck Up. Or I’m going to stick your head in the shit pot and drown you.” The big man gave Jacob a stinging backhand across his face.
The pain of the slap helped clear Jacob’s head. At first he thought the man was the cop who was chasing him, but as his vision focused, all he could see was rotted teeth, a filthy beard, and an ugly face. He figured he was in Hell. The smell was unbearable.
Jacob struggled to get up but the big man’s 320 pounds easily held him in place. Jacob, at five-foot-ten was big for a seventeen-year-old, but he was no match for this behemoth.
“He’s got nothin’, not even a fucking penny. You good for nothin’ little cock sucker. Where’s your money you little prick?” the big man barked as he slapped Jacob hard across the face again.
“Fuck you!” Jacob yelled as tears welled up in his eyes. He struggled to get free but couldn’t move.
“Aw, look at this. The little shit’s crying. Just like a little girl. Maybe you should be fucked, you little cunt.” The big man pulled Jacob’s pants down and rolled him over.
Fully awake now, Jacob realized he was in a jail cell. Fear immediately paralyzed him. He could do nothing under this powerful man’s grip. “Leave me the fuck alone you cock sucker!” Jacob screamed.
“Shut up. You’ll be the cock sucker soon,” the big man said, laughing as he unbuttoned his fly.
Franklin Garrett was sitting on a wooden stool in the corner of the cell, quietly watching. He didn’t want to get involved. Whenever he got involved in something that was not his business, it meant trouble.
But he couldn’t let this one alone. Not this time.
“Hey pal, leave the kid alone.”
There was no response. So Franklin repeated himself, this time louder.
“Hey pal, I said leave the kid the fuck alone!”
“Shut the fuck up and wait your turn. I’ll be with you as soon as I take care of this little girl. I got plenty for both of you, pretty boy,” the big man yelled.
Franklin was handsome—he was about six feet tall, muscular, and held a hint of a bad boy in his penetrating blue eyes. He had no problem attracting women of all types, but he preferred the ones who were married. They were less needy and more generous.
He slowly rose from the stool, picked it up, walked over to the big man, and calmly bashed the stool over his head. The stool made a loud splintering noise as it fell apart in his hands. The big man let out a startled groan and toppled to the cell floor, unconscious.
Franklin checked to see if the man was breathing. He placed a hand to the hulking man’s mouth and felt a faint draft. Franklin simultaneously felt a sense of relief that the man was still alive, but he also felt a creeping foreboding, hoping he didn’t wake up too soon.
Jacob scrambled to his feet, still scared, but in a rage. He stared hard at the man on the floor. “You Fucker!” he yelled as he kicked the big man in the groin. “Fucker, Fucker, Fucker!” He kicked the man three more times before Franklin pulled him away.
“Whoa! Take it easy, kid. If you kill him we’ll never get out of this place,” Franklin said.
Jacob twisted out of Franklin’s grip and yelled, “Fuck you! Leave me alone.”
“That’s gratitude kid. Maybe you didn’t notice, but you were about to become that man’s wife. I can’t imagine how that could have been pleasant,” Franklin said.
“I didn’t ask for your help,” Jacob snapped back.
“Okay, take it easy. Calm down.”
“I am calm,” Jacob replied as he kicked the big man in the groin one more time.
“Christ,” Franklin thought. “This kid’s nuts.”
“Hey what’s going on in there?” A guard doing his rounds snapped.
“Don’t know. This guy just let out a scream and fell to the floor,” Franklin replied. “I think he had a heart attack or something.”
“What’s the blood on his head?” the guard asked.
“I guess he hit his head when he fell,” Jacob said.
“What about that broken stool?” the guard asked.
“He was sitting on it and it broke when he fell,” Franklin replied.
“Yeah, that must be it,” the guard said sarcastically.
The guard blew a whistle and two more guards ran to the cell.
“Get him out of there and take him to the infirmary.” The guard unlocked the door and the two men entered. They took hold of the big man’s jacket collar and dragged him out of the cell and down the hall.
“Hey, you’re Franklin Garrett, aren’t you?” the guard asked.
“Yep, that would be me.”
“Well, I’ll be damned. I never expected to see someone like you in my jail,” the guard said.
“Me neither,” Franklin replied.
“I do some part-time guard work over at the construction site. What are you in for?” the guard asked.
“A little dispute with one of my contractors over plumbing.”
Garrett had been an Army infantry Officer during the war and he had seen his share of action. The one thing he couldn’t stand was insubordination. It had gotten people hurt, or worse. It was because of a sniveling coward that he was shot in the leg during the battle of Chateau-Thierry in 1918. When he returned to the U.S., he trained recruits for six months. After resigning his commission, he landed at Charles Byrne’s building project, in his hometown of Philadelphia, as supervisor of construction.
The Captain of the Guard heard the commotion and came to see what was going on.
“What the fuck’s going on, Peters?” the Captain asked.
“One of the prisoners passed out, Sir… Maybe a heart attack,” the guard replied.
“Where is he?” the Captain asked.
“Infirmary,” the guard replied.
“What cell is Franklin Garrett in?” the Captain asked.
“He’s right here, Sir.” The guard pointed at Garrett.
“And Jacob Byrne?” the Captain asked.
“The kid? Over there,” the guard answered.
“Get them both out here!”
“Yes sir.” The guard nodded and snatched Jacob up by the collar, marching him forward, toward the door. He looked at Garrett and cocked his head toward the cell door, saying, “You too. Let’s go.”
Jacob stumbled and fell as the guard dragged him to the door.
“Come on you little prick!” the guard yelled. “Ya want a beating?”
“Shut the fuck up you stupid ass,” the Captain said. “That’s Charles Byrne’s son.”
The guard suddenly let go of Jacob. “Shit kid, I didn’t mean it. You alright?” The guard wasn’t sure what to do, so he patted him on the head.
“Fuck you, cop!” Jacob replied pulling away.
“Your father’s man is waiting for you outside. You and that Garrett can leave now,” the Captain said.
“Good to have friends in high places,” Garrett said as he headed for the door.
“And a father who has the cops in his pocket.” Jacob looked at the Captain fiercely.
George Graham was standing by the open door to Byrne’s Rolls Royce when Jacob and Garrett left the jailhouse. Graham was a tall and muscular man—one you would not like to meet in a dark alley. He had a scar starting at his right ear that ran to the center of his neck. His looks alone got him out of many fights, but more often than not, he enjoyed knocking people around. He was Byrne’s driver and bodyguard and had been with Byrne since Byrne’s days as a gunrunner in Cuba. He had proved his worth on a number of occasions.
“Hello, Jakey,” Graham said.
“George, I asked you not to call me Jakey. It’s Jacob. I’m not a kid anymore,” Jacob said with irritation.
“Oh yeah. I forgot. Get the fuck in the car, Jakey. Your father’s waiting,” Graham said. “Garrett,” Graham nodded to Franklin.
“Hello George,” Franklin replied.
“You sit with me in the front,” Graham ordered.
“Sure,” Franklin answered. He knew better than to do anything other than what Graham asked. He had never met anyone who scared him as much as Graham.
“So you’re Mr. Byrne’s son. I didn’t know he had kids,” Franklin said to Jacob.
“Shut up,” Graham ordered.
Byrne conducted most of his business out of his home—a large five-story mansion located on North Broad Street, just north of Fairmont Avenue. It had been built sometime in the 1880s, but when Byrne had purchased it, he immediately modernized the Victorian home.
The Byrne mansion reeked of money. The home was at least four times wider than the row-homes Byrne had built for the blue-collar folks, and three stories taller. The brickwork was immaculate and the foyer was two stories high with a horseshoe stairway wrapping the elegant room gracefully. Byrne’s office was on the first floor.
“Okay. Out,” Graham barked. “Mr. Byrne’s waiting for you in his office.”
As Jacob and Garrett entered, Byrne growled. “Goddamn it, Jacob! What the hell were you thinking?”
Charles Byrne was a tall, slender man with graying dark brown hair, yet he had a commanding presence. He was born of a poor family in the inner city of Philadelphia. Byrne made his fortune before he was thirty, selling weapons to both the Spanish and the Cuban rebels during the Spanish-American War. In 1910, he returned to his hometown and invested his fortune into building row-homes in the growing northern part of the city. He had one son, Jacob, and no one else. Jacob’s mother, Mercy Byrne, had died of the Spanish Flu in 1918 as so many others had. Like many rich men who had started in poverty, he had a certain distain for the poor class.
“I was thinking, Father, that asshole grease ball didn’t need two watches,” Jacob retorted.
“Are you nuts? You have a watch and I give you money every week. You don’t need to steal,” Byrne said in dismay.
“You don’t get it, Pop. I like taking things from the grease balls. They come up here from South Philly and think they can sell their stolen crap. Well they can’t,” Jacob yelled.
Byrne backhanded Jacob.
“Go ahead, you old bastard. Hit me again,” Jacob yelled.
Byrne hit him again.
“Stay away from the Italians! I don’t need trouble with them. You little idiot, you know they control the brick layers,” Byrne said as he hit Jacob again.
“Screw you!” Jacob yelled as he left the room, slamming the door on his way out.
Byrne shook his head in dismay and looked at Franklin.
“Garrett, get the fuck over here,” Byrne bellowed.
Franklin, who had been sitting on an antique chair imported from France in the corner of the spacious office, slowly got up and walked over to Byrne’s large desk. Byrne didn’t ask him to sit.
“For Christ’s sake, Garrett! You’re the best manager I’ve had on this project, but I swear you are trying my patience. I can’t afford to keep losing contractors. What happened this time?” Byrne asked.
“Mr. Byrne, I am here to see that these homes get built the way you want them built. The plumbing contractor was using just oakum and cement instead of lead to seal the waste pipe joints. If the inspectors see that, they’ll make us redo everything. He gave me some lip so I showed him who was boss,” Franklin explained.
“He was doing that because I told him to, you fucking hot head. Leave the inspectors to me,” Byrne said. “Let me give you a little lesson in economics, Garrett. Maybe I’ll be able to get something through that thick skull of yours. I have a contract to build 10 blocks of homes. Each block has 200 homes in it. That’s 2000 homes. I sell these homes for $2,000 each. It costs me, on average, $1,400.00 to build each home. If I can cut on materials I can build them for less and make a better profit,” Byrne explained.
“But what happens when these joints fail in a few years?” Franklin asked.
“What the fuck do you care? We’ll be on the next project,” Byrne said.
“There are no buts. That’s the way it is and if that troubles your sensibilities then get the fuck out and find another job,” Byrne said irritably.
Franklin didn’t answer.
After a pause, Byrne asked, “Well, what’re you going to do, Garrett?”
“I am going to build your homes, Mr. Byrne,” Franklin replied.
“Good. Get the fuck out of here and get back to work.”
Leaving Byrne’s office, Franklin raged inside. It wasn’t the fact that they were doing a shoddy job building the homes. He could care less. It was that he just hated being treated like a low-life fool. Moreover, he hated the fact that he didn’t do anything about it even more.
Jacob was sitting on the bottom step of the staircase as Franklin left Byrne’s office. “Hey, Garrett?” Jacob called.
“Thanks,” Jacob said. “Sorry I was an asshole in the jail.”
“You’re right; you were an asshole,” Franklin replied.
Jacob laughed and said, “Okay, okay. Let’s kiss and make up.” He stuck his hand out, offering it to Franklin. Franklin looked at Jacob’s hand for a second and then grasped it and shook.
George Graham interrupted them as he threw a small bag to Jacob.
“Here, it’s the money and watches you had on you when you were arrested,” Graham said.
“Thanks, George. I thought they had gone to the Police Benevolent Association,” Jacob said sarcastically.
Graham nodded to Garrett as he walked away.
“That guy scares me,” Franklin said.
“He should,” Jacob replied.
“Kid, I have a question for you. What’s the deal with you and the Italians? Franklin asked.
“I’m not a kid. I’m seventeen, almost eighteen. And call me Jacob. It’s not so much the grease balls I hate; it’s their gang. They have South Philly under their control and I’ll be damned if I let them have North Philly. That’s my territory. Always has been,” Jacob answered.
“Yours?” Franklin said, laughing. “What do you mean, ‘yours’?”
“I’m sure you know my pop is building 2,000 homes just below Lehigh Avenue. What you might not know is that he already has contracts to build another 50,000 homes north of Lehigh over the next five years,” Jacob said.
“Great. More work for me,” Franklin said enthusiastically.
“Along with the houses he’ll be building factories. Actually, the homes are being built to house the factory workers. So this area will be buzzing with workmen looking for a good time. Women, drinking and gambling. I’ll give them what they want,” Jacob explained.
“You do know that prostitution, booze and gambling are illegal,” Franklin said.
“Exactly; that’s why people pay more. It’s a gold mine. And besides, it’s a stupid law,” Jacob said. “The grease balls are making a fortune in South Philly from booze and we got to keep them out of the North.”
“Does your father know your plans?” Franklin asked.
“Fuck no. He’s afraid the Italians will boycott laying bricks for his homes. You heard what he said,” Jacob said.
“They will,” Franklin said.
“So what! We’ll hire the Irish,” Jacob said.
“Well, it is a grand idea you have there, but without your father’s money it won’t be happening,” Franklin stated.
“We’ll see about that,” Jacob replied. “There are other ways to get money.”
“Like how?” Franklin asked.
“Like the grease balls,” Jacob quipped.
Jacob looked at Franklin for a few seconds in silence, then said, “Mr. Garrett, my old man talks highly of you. And believe me, that means something. He doesn’t think much of most people.” He paused and said, “I have a proposition for you.”
“Oh yeah?” Franklin asked.
“Yeah. If you take me under your wing and teach me the building business, when I take over for my father you’ll be Number Two. I’ll let you in on my other less… ‘legal’ enterprises,” Jacob said.
“Take over for your father! And when do you think that will happen?” Franklin asked, laughing.
“Not sure, but it will happen someday,” Jacob replied.
“You have some big brass balls kid,” Franklin said.
“I know,” Jacob replied.
“I’ll think about it.”
“Good. And since you’ll be my partner I’ll just call you Frank from now on,” Jacob said.
“I said I’ll think about it. Jesus H. Christ you’re something else,” Franklin said.
“I know,” Jacob replied, smiling. “Oh, Frank! You want a watch? I have one already,” Jacob tossed Franklin the watch he had taken from the Italian.